An embryo is a person and has the right to live? Discuss
“An embryo is a person and has the right to life”
A Roman Catholic would agree with this statement. Firstly, they are followers of Natural law and divine command ethics. As such, they relate to the teachings in the bible that relate to the sanctity of life, and therefore they believe an embryo is a person from the moment of conception. Roman Catholic law teaches that a foetus is a human being. Secondly, Natural law is based upon God’s purpose for his creation, and Natural Law places the protection of life and species above all others. Finally, they believe that life is holy and belongs to God, and thus only god can take it away, and life and personhood begins at conception. All persons have a natural right to life, and the mother and foetus have equal rights. "human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life." Also, the 6th commandment states that “thou shalt not commit murder” and as the foetus is a person and has the right to life, killing it would be murder. However, there is one exception, which is called the law of double effect. This rule states that if lifesaving treatment is given to a pregnant woman, (e.g. when conception happens in the fallopian tube instead of womb) and this results in the unintentional and unavoidable loss of a foetus, then in this case it is allowed.
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Someone who follows Preference Utilitarianism (Peter Singer) would disagree with this statement. Firstly, he would argue that abortion is permissible at any stage of the pregnancy, because unborn children lack the characteristics needed for personhood. He would argue that, as we have these, and we have preferences, we have a right to kill embryos as they don’t. He would argue that the sufficient condition for personhood is the ability to have and make preference, and anyone that can, including animals- should have rights. Secondly, he would argue that even some newborns do not have rights, and therefore they don’t have the right to live, as they lack rationality, autonomy and self-consciousness. Finally, he would say that the right to life is tied to three things, the ability to make preferences, and to feel pleasure and pain. This is consistent with his general ethical theory. Singer argues that it is impossible to find precisely when human life begins, as human development is a gradual process, not something that happens in one instance. “The argument that a fetus is not alive is a resort to a convenient fiction that turns an evidently living being into one that legally is not alive. Instead of accepting such fictions, we should recognise that the fact that a being is human, and alive, does not in itself tell us whether it is wrong to take that being's life”. Singer states that the argument should compare the preference of a woman vs the preference of the foetus (if the foetus was able to have preferences, which Singer doesn’t believe, this is just how he attacks the anti-abortion argument back). In Singers view, preference is all forms of benefit or harm one may wish to obtain or avoid. He then argues that, since the ability to experience pain or pleasure is a pre-requisite to having any sort of preferences, a foetus can definitely not have any preferences up until 18 weeks, as the foetus cannot feel pleasure or pain before this, meaning that it is not human. In his calculation, the preference of the woman has nothing to weigh up against, as the foetus has no preference, and therefore abortion is morally permissible.
Both arguments however, have weaknesses. The main argument that the Catholic Church have is the belief that “life and personhood begins at conception”. Therefore, they believe that unique DNA alone is a sufficient condition for personhood. However, while DNA is necessary for personhood, it is not the sufficient condition for personhood. I believe that the necessary condition for personhood is at 24 weeks, as at this point, the foetus can experience pain and pleasure, and this is the sufficient condition because it means that the foetus will start to develop experiences associated with pain and pleasure. Singers argument is flawed, because, firstly, his account of the happenings of the foetus are pure speculation- he is hardly an expert of foetal life, and therefore cannot give a fully accurate account of what the foetus experiences, indeed, technology hasn’t advanced far enough for anyone to fully understand this. In many instances he relies on possibility without pure factual support. His theory is linked to consequentialism, as the “greatest good for the greatest number” is a way of justifying means by saying that the consequence was favourable.
Due to the weakness of these arguments, my moral ground for this statement is liberal, similar to the Anglican Church- I neither agree nor disagree, but I believe that it is based and should be argued on a general case by case basis. I argue that the sufficient condition for personhood and the right to life is at 24 weeks, when the foetus can experience pain and pleasure. Therefore I disagree with the Catholics who believe that life starts at 0 weeks, or Singer who states that it can be up to one year after birth. I believe that the mother has more rights than the foetus, and therefore if the mother has a valid reason for abortion, she should be able to abort whenever she likes, even after the 24th week if she so wishes, as her needs are greater than the foetus. To conclude, I believe that there is no absolute law or ruling on this statement, as it comes down to the needs of the mother, her own personal beliefs, personal life, and what she wishes, as the needs of the mother outweigh that of the foetus.